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  • Author:agent Tom Collins
Issue Details: First known date: 1897... 1897 Such Is Life : Being Certain Extracts from the Diary of Tom Collins
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AbstractHistoryArchive Description

Such is Life: Being Certain Extracts from the Diary of Tom Collins. Joseph Furphy's title gives an indication of the complexity of the narrative that will unravel before a persistent reader. In chapter one, the narrator, Tom Collins, joins a group of bullockies to camp for the night a few miles from Runnymede Station. Their conversations reveal many of the issues that arise throughout the rest of the novel: the ownership of, or control of access to, pasture; ideas of providence, fate and superstition; and a concern for federation that flows into descriptions of the coming Australian in later chapters. Each of the characters provides a portrait of bush types that Furphy uses to measure the qualities of squatters and others against popular ideas of the 'gentleman'. Furphy's choice of a narrative structure to create a 'loosely federated' series of yarns is itself a critique of popular narratives populated by stock characters who are driven by action that leads to predictable and uncomplicated conclusions. Tom Collins, the unreliable narrator, adds further complications by claiming to 'read men like signboards' while all the time being unknowingly contradicted by circumstances that become obvious to the reader.

In each subsequent chapter Tom Collins leads the reader through a series of experiences chosen from his diaries. In chapter two, Collins meets the boundary rider Rory O'Halloran and his daughter, Mary, a symbol of the coming Australian whose devotion to her father will have tragic consequences in chapter five. There are many links between chapters like this one that remain invisible to Collins, despite his attempts to understand the 'controlling alternatives' that affect our lives. In chapter three Tom loses his clothes crossing the Murray River and spends the night wandering naked until he is able to steal a pair of pants after diverting attention by setting fire to a haystack. In chapter four Collins helps an ailing Warrigal Alf by deceiving several boundary riders who have impounded Alf's bullocks. In chapter five, among other yarns of lost children, Thompson completes the tragic tale of Mary O'Halloran, connecting with the events of chapter two. Chapters six and seven take Tom Collins back to Runnymede Station where he attempts to avoid an unwelcome union with Maud Beaudesart. He also meets the disfigured boundary rider, Nosey Alf, whose life story Furphy has threaded throughout the narrative, signs not perceived by Tom Collins. When Collins returns to Runnymede at the end of the novel, Furphy ties up more loose narrative threads, but Tom Collins, the narrator, remains oblivious to the end.

In short, Such Is Life 'reflects the preoccupations of [the 1890s]: contemporary capitalism, ardent Australian nationalism, the difficulties of pioneering pastoralism, and speculation about a future Australian civilization. It was instantly seen as a major example of the "radical nationalism" of the time and praised for its realistic representation of life on the frontier in the 1880s. But it was forty years before many readers realized that the novel was also a subtle comment on fiction itself and that within it were hidden stories that revealed a world of "romance" within its "realist" representation of life. Such Is Life can be read as the first experimental novel in Australian literature and the first Australian literary expression of a twentieth-century sensibility of the provisionality of life and reality.' (Julian Croft, 'Joseph Furphy.' in Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 230.)




y separately published work icon Such Is Life Gail Holst-Warhaft , West Melbourne : Nelson , 1979 Z1097550 1979 single work children's fiction children's
form y separately published work icon Child Lost on Goolumbulla Anson Cameron , ( dir. Benj Binks ) Australia : 2013 Z1856578 2013 single work film/TV

Reading Australia

Reading Australia

This work has Reading Australia teaching resources.


* Contents derived from the Chicago, Illinois,
United States of America (USA),
University of Chicago Press , 1948 version. Please note that other versions/publications may contain different contents. See the Publication Details.
About Tom Collins, C. Hartley Grattan , single work biography (p. 375-394)
* Contents derived from the Melbourne, Victoria,:Text Publishing , 2013 version. Please note that other versions/publications may contain different contents. See the Publication Details.
Introduction, David Malouf , essay

Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

      1897 .
      image of person or book cover 177579712244014729.jpg
      Link: 8706592Full text document AustLit Full Text
      (Manuscript) assertion
      • Manuscript - Furphy delivered the 1,125 page manuscript of Such is Life to J. F. Archibald soon after making an enquiry about submission procedures. After inspecting the manuscript, the literary editor A. G. Stephens replied, suggesting that a shorter version would be necessary to be financially viable, and requesting a typed copy to enable closer inspection. Furphy took on the typing job himself, and, in the process of transferring text to the typescript, he discarded or recycled most of the manuscript. Only seventy pages of the manuscript have been preserved in Furphy's archives.


      Held at: Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW
      Location: ML MSS 364/66
      1898 .
      image of person or book cover 5955048444682209290.jpg
      Link: 8705292Full text document AustLit Full Text
      (Manuscript) assertion
      • Typescript with author's revisions - Of the 654 typescript pages that Furphy delivered to A. G. Stephens in July 1898, 415 are preserved in Furphy's archives. Furphy completed the typescript version of Such is Life on 11 July 1898. Three years later, acting on A. G. Stephens' persistent requests for a shorter version to please the Bulletin managers, Furphy replaced the two longest chapters with shorter ones. Retyping a new clean copy, he also revised other chapters to match his new narrative scheme, delivering a second typescript (now lost) to A. G. Stephens on 18 October 1901.


      Held at: Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW
      Location: ML MSS 364/65

Other Formats

  • Also braille and sound recording.

Works about this Work

Blankety-Blank : The Art of the Euphemism Amanda Laugesen , 2020 single work column
— Appears in: Australian Book Review , December no. 427 2020;
'Disguising the words we dare not print has a long and fascinating history. From the late eighteenth century in particular, it became common in printed works to disguise words such as profanities and curses – from the use of typographical substitutes such as asterisks to the replacement of a swear word with a euphemism. When I was researching my recent book, Rooted, on the history of bad language in Australia, I was struck by the creative ways in which writers, editors, and typesetters, especially through the late nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, sought to evade censors and allude to profanity.' (Introduction)
The Transvestite Adventure : Reading the Colonial Grotesque Elizabeth McMahon , 2020 single work criticism
— Appears in: JASAL , vol. 20 no. 2 2020;

'This reading of transvestic performance in Australian fiction is in dialogue with Robert Dixon’s 1995 monograph Writing the Colonial Adventure: Race, Gender and Nation in Anglo-Australian Popular Fiction, 1875-1914. It is informed by the frameworks Dixon developed in his analysis of the relationship between literature and culture, specifically the ways in which he relates the occult effects of the literary imaginary and the political unconscious to historical context and their implication in the formation of Australia’s particular colonialism. More specifically still, the argument regarding colonial transvestism engages directly with Dixon’s deployment of Peter Stallybrass and Allon White’s formulation of the ‘grotesque’ and its application to the Australian colonial context. The essay revisits Dixon’s reading of the Australian grotesque as a critical optic for reading Australian colonial narratives of female to male cross-dressing to argue that the transvestite figures in colonial narratives enact performances of what Stallybrass and White schematise as the two orders of the grotesque, which are enacted in the identity formation of the collective.' (Publication abstract)

Mapping Joseph Furphy’s Riverina—Yooringa Alan Thompson , 2020 single work criticism
— Appears in: JASAL , vol. 20 no. 1 2020;
'In this essay, I chronicle my attempt to produce an accurate topographical map of the setting for Chapter III of Joseph Furphy’s Such Is Life and the route that the novel’s narrator and main protagonist Tom Collins follows through that landscape. I also set out my attempts to map the ‘exact locality’ of this setting within the real world of the Riverina, beyond Tom’s evasive admission that ‘it was somewhere between Echuca and Albury’ (SIL 82/102).1 Of course, it is not entirely necessary to fully answer these questions to be able to broadly follow the events that take place in Chapter III. Nevertheless, while the intricacies of the landscape are not immediately obvious from a cursory reading, it is evident from Furphy’s judicious and precise placement of numerous topographical and geolocational markers or clues within the text (notwithstanding Tom’s often seemingly fumbling attempts to conceal them), that he (Furphy) probably intended the ‘observant reader’ (SIL 2/2) to use these clues as signposts in order to form a detailed picture of location and landscape; or, perhaps, more in line with the wider themes of Such Is Life, he meant to lure him or her into such an attempt. I felt I owed it to Furphy to accept his challenge and try to ‘shift some of my inborn ignorance’ (SIL 128/159).'

 (Publication abstract)

'This Edition Howls to Heaven to Be Withdrawn' : The Palmer Abridgement of Joseph Furphy's Such Is Life. Roger Osborne , 2020 single work criticism
— Appears in: Australian Literary Studies , April vol. 35 no. 1 2020;

'When the abridged English edition of Joseph Furphy’s Such is Life appeared on the shelves of Australian booksellers in the middle of 1937, many of Australia’s most prominent cultural nationalists directed their outrage at the editor, Vance Palmer. First published in 1903 by the Bulletin Newspaper Company, Such is Life was out-of-print and largely neglected when the London publisher Jonathan Cape arranged for the abridgement. David Walker has shown that the abridgment was actually the work of literary critic Nettie Palmer, Vance Palmer’s wife, ably assisted by their daughter, Aileen, and Walker also outlines the most vociferous examples of cultural outrage, but what the Palmers actually did to the novel has not been examined in any detail. This paper builds on Walker’s research to look more closely at the circumstances of the abridgement, and what the Palmers actually did within a much longer history of composition, revision, and publication that culminated in Angus and Robertson’s unabridged edition published in 1944. Rather than rejecting the abridgement as an outrageous example of cultural destruction, I argue that it is, instead, an important event within the life of the work we know as Such is Life; a resuscitation, if you like, and, therefore, worthy of closer examination in both aesthetic and cultural terms. (Publication abstract)


The Preciousness of Everything : The 2014 Brian Medlin Memorial Lecture Brian Matthews , 2015 single work criticism
— Appears in: Transnational Literature , November vol. 8 no. 1 2015;
Untitled 1918 single work review
— Appears in: Birth : A Little Journal of Australian Poetry , April 1918; (p. 3)

— Review of Such Is Life : Being Certain Extracts from the Diary of Tom Collins Tom Collins , 1897 single work novel
The review praises Palmer's introduction to Such Is Life.
Untitled 1937 single work review
— Appears in: The Times Literary Supplement , 24 April 1937; (p. 306)

— Review of Such Is Life : Being Certain Extracts from the Diary of Tom Collins Tom Collins , 1897 single work novel
'Such Is Life' Nettie Palmer , 1928 single work review
— Appears in: The Brisbane Courier , 7 July 1928; (p. 23)

— Review of Such Is Life : Being Certain Extracts from the Diary of Tom Collins Tom Collins , 1897 single work novel
Twelve Australian Books That Should Be in Every Australian Home Mary Gilmore , George Mackaness , Frederick T. Macartney , 1937 single work review
— Appears in: All About Books , 10 November vol. 9 no. 11 1937; (p. 172)

— Review of The Singing Gold Dorothy Cottrell , 1927 single work novel ; Landtakers : The Story of an Epoch Brian Penton , 1934 single work novel ; Confessions of a Beachcomber E. J. Banfield , 1908 extract autobiography ; The Sentimental Bloke : The Play C. J. Dennis , 1914 single work poetry ; Songs of a Campaign Leon Gellert , 1917 selected work poetry ; Heart of Spring John Shaw Neilson , 1919 selected work poetry ; Satyrs and Sunlight : Being the Collected Poetry of Hugh McCrae Hugh McCrae , 1928 selected work poetry ; His Natural Life Marcus Clarke , 1870-1872 single work novel ; The Pearl and the Octopus, and Other Exercises in Prose and Verse Alfred George Stephens , 1911 selected work short story poetry ; Such Is Life : Being Certain Extracts from the Diary of Tom Collins Tom Collins , 1897 single work novel ; Flynn of the Inland Ion L. Idriess , 1932 single work biography ; The Fortunes of Richard Mahony Henry Handel Richardson , 1917 single work novel ; Man-Shy Frank Dalby Davison , 1934 extract novel ; We of the Never-Never Mrs Aeneas Gunn , 1908 single work novel ; Speaking Personally Walter Murdoch , 1930 selected work essay ; Best Australian One-Act Plays 1937 anthology drama ; The Wide Brown Land : A New Anthology of Australian Verse 1934 anthology poetry ; The Magic Pudding Second Slice : Being the Adventures of Bunyip Bluegum and His Friends Bill Barnacle and Sam Sawnoff Norman Lindsay , 1971 extract children's fiction ; Separate Lives Vance Palmer , 1931 selected work short story ; Modern Australian Literature, 1900-1923 Nettie Palmer , 1924 single work criticism
Untitled 1936 single work review
— Appears in: The North Queensland Register , 7 November 1936; (p. 97)

— Review of Such Is Life : Being Certain Extracts from the Diary of Tom Collins Tom Collins , 1897 single work novel
Naked Truths and "Long Involved Lies" : Nationality and Belonging in Such Is Life Stephen Cowden , 1999 single work criticism
— Appears in: A Fringe of Papers : Offshore Perspectives on Australian History and Literature 1999; (p. 63-72)
"This essay considers whether Homi Bhaba's notion of 'Mimicry' sheds any light on the discourse of Nation in Furphy's Such Is Life, or on what postcoloniality might mean in an Australian context" (63).
New Issues, Old Issues : The Australian Tradition Revisited John McLaren , 2003 single work criticism
— Appears in: Overland , Autumn no. 170 2003; (p. 49-56)

McLaren discusses a number of Australian novels (all recently re-issued) which have been central to developing the way in which Australians and foreigners think about white society in this continent. He distinguishes several trends and traditions in describing and characterising Australia's social and political system. Whereas Clarke and Richardson present Australia as a prison, Palmer and Waten present it as a land offering the promise of freedom. Furphy, on the other hand, is seen as a writer 'who shows us a country seeming to offer plentitude but finally withholding its promise' (54).

McLaren concludes that the 'past expressed in these fictions variously produced values of solidarity, egalitarianism, harmony with the land, but their values remain circumscribed by fear of the powerless and the dispossessed, by the arrogance of the powerful, and by distrust of the outsider. Our future will be secure only as we accept continuity with the past, enter into dialogue with the differences of the present, and accept a common responsibility towards the land that supports us' (56).

Of Bullocks and Bulldust John Sendy , 2003 single work criticism
— Appears in: Eureka Street , July-August vol. 13 no. 6 2003; (p. 50-52)
Celebrating the Original Larrikin Michael McGirr , 2003 single work criticism
— Appears in: The Age , 26 July 2003; (p. 2) The Sydney Morning Herald , 26-27 July 2003; (p. 6)
McGirr reassesses Joseph Furphy's Such is Life in the centenary year of its publication.
Un/making Sexuality: Such Is Life and the Observant Queer Reader Damien Barlow , 2003 single work criticism
— Appears in: Australian Literary Studies , October vol. 21 no. 2 2003; (p. 166-177)

'I want to propose that the incertitudes of Furphy's magnum opus provide the observant queer reader with an arousing focus on the late-nineteenth-century making of "sexuality" as a new regulatory system of sexual organisation. In advocating an engagement between Such is Life and queer theory, I want to ask, how does Furphy represent sexuality in Such is Life? and what is the analytical purchase provided by a queer reading of the text?'

Last amended 11 Oct 2018 10:53:46